Farewell Alcatraz

One of the joys of living in the Marina is walking along the Marina Green by the sea wall on a clear day and looking out over the open waters of the Bay to Alcatraz and Angel Island. Fair’s Seawall, which marks the northern boundary of the Marina Green, was started over a century ago and formed part of the location for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It is a designated historic landmark. If you enjoy the views across the Bay with your children or grandchildren, then make the most of them in the next two years. After that, the open view will be lost forever.

The recently approved plan to renovate the Marina West Yacht Harbor includes the construction of a new floating concrete breakwater. The concrete breakwater will be as long as a football field and about 15 feet wide. It will sit in the Bay about 300 feet off the Marina Green between the entrance to the West Harbor and the Degaussing Station. This new 40,000 cubic foot concrete structure will be oriented in a line pointing northwest from the seawall. It will be lighted at night.

You may be asking yourself how this environmental disaster could happen. Aren’t there laws to protect the environment, the Bay and the views? There are indeed. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires a public review of such plans, and a review was held in 2005 and 2006 at great public expense. The problem is that the concrete floating breakwater was not part of the plan at that time, and so was not part of the review. The proposed location of the concrete floating breakwater was not even within the boundary of the project considered in 2005 and 2006. Shouldn’t such a substantial change be subjected to public review? CEQA says yes, but our City government says no.

Aren’t there other laws to protect our views of the Bay? There are indeed.

San Francisco Urban Design Plan Element Policy 1.1 requires us to “recognize and protect major views in the city, with particular attention to those of open space and water.”

The City’s Recreation and Open Space Plan Element (Part 2) requires us to “maintain the quality and character of the Marina Green.”
The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) Policy 2 requires that “maximum efforts should be made to … preserve views of the Bay and shoreline, especially from public areas.”

BCDC’s Policy 4 also requires that we “maintain and enhance the visual quality of the Bay, shoreline and adjacent developments.”

So who is responsible for enforcing these environmental and planning laws? The answer is the San Francisco Planning Department, the San Francisco Planning Commission, the City Attorney, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and BCDC.

Then with all these laws and all these public authorities to enforce them, who approved the construction of the 40,000-cubic-foot concrete breakwater off the Marina Green? The answer is the San Francisco Planning Department, the San Francisco Planning Commission, the City Attorney, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and BCDC.

There are further questions that should be asked about this project, such as:
Isn’t the harbor in desperate need of renovation?
Hasn’t this plan been delayed a long time?
Don’t the boat owners who will be paying for the renovation deserve a decent harbor?
The answer to these three questions is a resounding “Yes.”

All parts of the plan were subjected to the appropriate public review with the exception of the concrete floating breakwater. The reason for this late change from the breakwater approved in the environmental report to the concrete floating breakwater was a piece of news that must have come as a terrible shock for the Recreation and Park Department. Despite studying the subject since 1981 and spending over $3 million on consultants, they had failed to foresee a problem, which is (are you sitting down?):

There is mud on the bottom of the Bay.

The Marina Community Association suggested (unsuccessfully) that we adopt the advice given about the floating concrete breakwater in January 2010 by the project’s engineering consultants, when they stated, “The marina has survived for many years without wave protection, and … it is feasible to postpone the construction of this segment.”

That decision would also save borrowing over $2 million when the City and the state have serious budget problems.

The Marina Community Association is dedicated to protecting and improving the distinctive residential quality of the Marina District. You are eligible to join MCA if you are over 18 and a resident or owner of a dwelling within the Marina. Visit for more information.